Crystal Ballroom

The Antlers, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

You might not expect it, but The Antlers can really bring the thunder live.  The band may be famous for its delicately gorgeous ballads, but they certainly know how to build to a climax and drop the hammer, and it makes for an excellent show.  I was excited to see the band headline the Crystal Ballroom last night, since I was finally getting to see them play a full set–previously, I had only seen them play a quick SXSW showcase event and half of a shortened set at MusicFestNW, and each time they had left me wanting more.  It turns out that even ninety-plus minutes is not enough either.

Up close and personal with The Antlers

Up close and personal with The Antlers

The crowd was disappointingly sparse, though those who did show up were often enthusiastic in their response.  Previously the band had played the Doug Fir, and the jump up to the cavernous Crystal Ballroom may have been a bit overzealous; if they booked the show at the Wonder Ballroom, it would have been much closer to a sellout.  The good news is that the acoustics and sound system of the Crystal, which often frustrate and stymie even the most experienced acts, proved to be a good fit for the band’s haunting chords and gorgeous melodies.  Occasionally Peter’s guitar would find itself buried in the mix or a trumpet would pop a bit too much, but these were very minor concerns.

The band overall played brilliantly, with Darby and Tim mesmerizing the crowd with their ability to simultaneously play keys and horn parts, and Michael Lerner serving up some bombast with his work behind the kit.  The drums are often overshadowed on the album by the other instrumental parts, but they help the songs take on a whole new dimension live, giving real weight to the low end and providing unexpected rhythmic kicks–for example, in their stunning performance of “I Don’t Want Love” from their previous album Burst Apart, Lerner would add an extra beat on the kick drum leading into the chorus that helped drive the anticipation for its big release, and helped create some great tension by utilizing a snare pattern that danced around the expected beat with the final chorus.  Peter also showed signs that he is an underrated guitarist with some sneaky displays of his chops, ranging from a couple of excellent and tasteful guitar solos to a one-handed pull-off chord technique that helped spark even more intensity from their performance of “Putting the Dog to Sleep”.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The Antlers up on the big board.

The band took an intriguing approach to their setlist, primarily running through their latest album Familiars front-to-back, with older songs filtered in on occasion.  There were murmurs in the crowd for older material, namely from their classic album Hospice, but they still showed their appreciation for the newer material.  As the night went on, the band gradually loosened up in their interactions with the crowd, including a memorable exchange where Peter acknowledged the “holiday” and pulled an April Fool’s Day prank by signalling that they were about to play a new song, before quickly correcting the record.  What made this simple joke even better was Darby’s confession soon after that he had panicked a bit, wondering what it could possibly be that they were playing since they had not written any new material yet, as well as Peter’s suggestion that the audience come up with better stories of the “prank” the band had pulled.

Though The Antlers never played “Two” or “Bear” as some members of the crowd requested, the show did feature intense performances of “Kettering” and the heart-wrenching “Epilogue”, and the arrangements of the newer songs also infused them with an extra vitality.  Perhaps word of mouth will lead to a better turnout the next time the band plays Portland.

I didn’t get a chance to see the first band, but the second openers Shaprece was pleasantly delightful.  She had a wonderful voice, and the use of a cello helped add an extra dimension to the glitch-pop R&B that other artists like fka Twigs are popularizing.

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TV on the Radio, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

Over the course of more than a decade and five albums into their career, there is still no band like TV on the Radio.  They are sui generis, a singular entity that defies easy characterization but continually produces gorgeous and engaging music. As great as their studio output is, it gives but a glimpse of the true power of the band, and that’s its live show.  Last Thursday’s show at the Crystal Ballroom was a thrilling experience that capped off not only a wonderful year of concerts, but proves that more than ever we need to be thankful for the band’s existence.

Inside, they don't take as much care in lining up the names for the concert calendar

Inside, they don’t take as much care in lining up the names for the concert calendar

On record, TV on the Radio exerts an air of precision and carefulness; even when the songs are filled with hisses and layers of ambient haze, there is still the notion that this “noise” is meticulously constructed, with the particular vocal styles of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone also contributing to this perception.  However, their live show moves away from their more artfully produced side and instead brings out their dormant punk rock tendencies.  This was established in a dramatic fashion at the very beginning of the show, as waves of haze and noise filled the air like an aural fog machine before Tunde ripped through and delivered a thrilling rendition of one of their earliest songs, “Young Liars”.  Though I have my doubts that most of the audience had an previous familiarity with the song, by the end of the first chorus it didn’t matter, and they provided an enthusiastic response.

Tunde was moving around the stage and wringing the emotion out of every note, often with the aid of his unique physical mannerisms that in the hands of a less capable performer would look ridiculous but were clearly genuine expressions on his part.  Dave Sitek spent most of the set furiously strumming his guitar, and though it was nearly impossible to pick out his singular contributions it was clear that he was making an important contribution to the general atmosphere of each song; he stood in direct contrast to Kyp Malone on the other side of the stage, whose stillness amid the chaos portrayed an almost zen-like quality to his guitar-playing and vocal parts.  In their live performance, the brilliance of the composition of the bass and drum parts become much more apparent, and Jaleel Bunton and Japhet Landis helped not only to keep everything grounded but offered thrilling personal touches of their own.  While Landis seemed to struggle slightly with a couple of the turnarounds in “Lazerray”, he more than made up for it with his handling of the tricky rhythms of “Province”.

TV on the Radio performing "Golden Age"

TV on the Radio performing “Golden Age”

The set focused mainly on the new album Seeds, with the band performing most of the album, including a stretch of four songs in a row that indicate the band’s confidence in the material.  Considering we here at RIJR think it’s one of the top albums of the year, we were fine with this decision.  The band sprinkled only a little bit from the rest of their catalog throughout, with Dear Science and Return to Cookie Mountain getting a handful of songs each.  For the most part, the intention was to keep the energy up, and so fast-paced rockers like “Dancing Choose” and “Golden Age” dominated the setlist in favor of the band’s slower songs (though a re-working of “Blues From Down Here” showed the versatility of their more balladesque material).  As expected, “Wolf Like Me” was a thrilling highlight, with the crowd absolutely losing its mind during the band’s ferocious performance.

The band seemed to genuinely enjoy their visit to Portland, and the crowd was glad to benefit from the extra shot of energy that comes with the final stop at the end of a tour.  But there were other things that were understandably on the band’s mind, as Kyp and Tunde both took time between songs to express frustration with the recent current events and promote positive social awareness in the audience.  This included a memorable segment that involved crowd participation about “light” and “dark” and Tunde running through and high-fiving the audience.  All of this led up to the final song, the moment that I had been hoping all night to hear once again, and that was their electric performance of their early hit “Staring at the Sun”.  It is one of the highlights of desperate youth, blood thirsty babes, but it takes on a whole new dimension when performed live that few bands in history can match.  It was a sensational conclusion to not only a brilliant show, but to the year in general.  Thanks to that performance, I’m going to have to reshuffle my list of top concerts of the year, but that’s a great problem to have.

Spoon, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

After taking a five year break from visiting Portland, Spoon returned last night for their second show in less than six months, but even with the quick turnaround the fans last night were excited to see the one-time locals once again.  Breaking free from the tentativeness of their previous festival-headlining slot at MusicFestNW, the band seemed energized to bring their show back to a more intimate venue with a devoted audience.  It makes one wish that Spoon would stop by every month of the year.

Hopefully we won't have to use this photo for the next concert as well.

Hopefully we won’t have to use this photo for the next concert as well.

It was clear almost immediately that the time spent touring in support of their excellent new album They Want My Soul was well-spent, as the band sounded crisper and more spirited than they did at their show this past summer.  Even during moments when it seemed like not everyone was in sync, there was still a feeling of calm that they would let any temporary road bumps slide and they could line up again soon enough.  This palpable sense of trust in each other allowed the band to flash some showier stage tricks (like Britt Daniel pulling a Johnny Cash and aiming his guitar as a gun to add an exclamation point to some of his licks) or recover quickly from quick fuckups (like Britt dropping the mic in “The Way We Get By”).

At this point it is nearly impossible for Spoon to come up with a bad setlist, considering they’ve released six stellar albums in a row, and as a result the band can choose freely from a deep catalog.  Though it was a bit disappointing for me personally to have Girls Can Tell shut out, that was balanced out by hearing hidden gems like “They Never Got You” from Gimme Fiction and “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case”.  Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga made up the lion’s share of the set, with a punched-up and dramatic version of “The Ghost Of You Lingers” being a standout of the early part of the set.  Driving numbers like “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “Don’t Make Me A Target” got the crowd bouncing along, with more than a few totally cutting loose during main set closer “Got Nuffin'”.

Britt takes stock of the audience

Britt takes stock of the audience

The encore kicked off with the fantastic “Black Like Me”, though it was a bit disappointing to have the crowd not respond en masse with the “yeah”s and “oh yeah”s.  I suspected that the cover that the band played was from The Cramps, and I was proud to see that my suspicions were confirmed as they indeed played their song “My TV Set” (while I try to be as knowledgeable as possible, my expertise is not perfect, and I only have a rudimentary knowledge of the band).  Spoon finished the night with “a song that I wrote in Southeast”, and the audience was overjoyed to hear that the ebullient “The Underdog” was a local product.  We can only hope that Britt comes back for more inspiration soon.

A Giant Dog were the first openers, and they were an energetic group that kept spirits high; it was nice to hear Britt plug their other show that night at Dante’s, noting though that if you saw him there to not talk to him because he wanted to truly take in their music.  Future Islands, despite all the accolades they’ve received so far, did little to impress despite my intention to approach them with an open mind; instead, I feel as if it may be necessary to note specifically what it is that bothers me about their sound, but I don’t want to take away any more from the main act.  Spoon delivered a superb show, and it’s wonderful to see their career continue to thrive.

The War On Drugs, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

It’s only been a few short months since we last saw The War On Drugs live in Portland, and the upgrade in venue from the Wonder to the Crystal matches their surging popularity over the course of this year.  When we last saw them, the band had just released their latest album Lost In The Dream to stellar reviews and they seemed poised to break through into the mainstream; eight months later, as Lost starts appearing at the top of everyone’s lists for album of the year and the band has a bona fide radio hit with “Red Eyes” (which by kicking off KNRK’s “December to Remember” series of concerts last night confirmed), it’s clear that The War On Drugs have arrived.  And just as they did back in the spring, the band came through with a spirited set that left an even larger audience buzzing.

Thanks to the bizarre layout mandated by the OLCC, a solid dead-center shot for this pic.

Thanks to the bizarre layout mandated by the OLCC, a solid dead-center shot for this pic.

After months of touring, the band’s setlist is a well-oiled machine: a strong natural flow has developed between the ballads and uptempo material, and the transitions between songs have now been smoothed over to minimize the delay for tuning and pedal adjustments.  As to be expected, material from Lost In The Dream dominated the setlist, with eight of the ten tracks represented (only the instrumental “The Haunting Idle” and the dirge-like “Suffering” failed to make the cut).  The peppy “Burning” made for a strong opener and set the mood, but it took the opening clicks of “Under the Pressure” for the crowd to begin making some real noise.  That was nothing however in comparison to their response to “An Ocean in Between the Waves”, which due in no small part to its extended solos received a generous applause and some hollers.

It’s clear that despite the affection the crowd had for the band and the new album, it didn’t inspire most of them to go back and pick up the early material, as cuts from Wagonwheel Blues and Slave Ambient were met with only the occasional cheer.  It was during these songs that The War On Drugs fell victim to the Crystal Ballroom Curse, as the overlapping of several effects pedals and similar-ranged instruments created a dense morass that made it hard to distinguish what was being played, even beyond the hazy effect intended by the material.  “These Arms Like Boulders” and “Come to the City” are gorgeous songs if you are familiar with them, but to the uninitiated can seem like mush, though the latter benefited from some nifty drumming that caught the eye of the crowd.  As many who have been to shows at the Crystal can attest, you need a top-notch sound man handling the mix or else everything can turn to crap.

Tuning up amid the haze; fog machine was working overtime

Tuning up amid the haze; fog machine was working overtime

Adam Granduciel kept the evening friendly with his crowd banter, talking about his love of Portland and how he was looking forward to seeing the Blazers play the next night at home (and he endeared himself to the crowd when some folks tried to correct him about the new name of the arena by saying, “It will always be the Rose Garden to me.”)  It didn’t seem at all like the band was weary from touring consistently for nine months, but instead that they had just hit their stride and were generally appreciative of getting to play another show.  The show still felt fresh, even if it was a similar script playing out each night.  As one would expect, “Red Eyes” had the crowd going nuts, but as it happened at the Wonder, “Eyes to the Wind” was the true highlight, with the fans giving that performance a hearty cheer to end the main set.  The encore left the casual fans a bit cold, but since they had heard what they came to hear, they couldn’t complain; meanwhile, I enjoyed going crazy at hearing “Baby Missiles” and its infectious beat once again.  And that was enough to help make the walk out the door seem twenty degrees warmer than the one coming in.

As for the opener, Summer Cannibals delivered a killer set of garage-influenced punk, a bit of a more harder-edged version of the Dum Dum Girls.  We had caught them earlier this year when they were the first openers for The Thermals down in Salem, but at least this time we were able to track them down and actually get their album.  We’ll see if it’s as good as their live show.

Death From Above 1979, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

For a couple of hours last night, I felt both 14 and 40 simultaneously.  It’s the kind of feeling you can only get when you’re watching a favorite band from your younger and more vulnerable years thrash away at an otherwise-unbearable volume.  Sure, the body can take the abuse of the unruly masses for only a couple of songs these days, but it doesn’t compare to the euphoria of a fucking great performance.

Easily the high point of that lineup

Easily the high point of that lineup

I had been waiting ten years for this show, and I was not going to be content observing the proceedings from a safe spot in the middle of the crowd.  I was one of the few people to give these guys radio play back when You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine first came out, and since then I had desperately wanted to see DFA1979’s furious intensity translated into a live setting.  Instead, due to mostly just bad luck, I had to be content during that long wait to merely play their album hundreds of times or attempting to track down whatever live footage I could find (like their brilliant performance on Conan).  A couple of years later, Sebastien and Jesse broke up, and it seemed like any chance to see the duo live was lost to history.  Of course, we all know now that the band reunited a few years ago, but still I wasn’t any closer to seeing these guys.  There was the initial insistence on playing far-flung festivals that I had no intention of attending, but even when circumstances conspired to put us in the same city at the same time, it wasn’t enough–I was there the year that they surprised SXSW with their reunification, but due to my outdated phone I heard the confirmation hours after their tiny venue had already overfilled well past capacity, and had to be content to learn the details secondhand the next day.  So yeah, I was going to through caution and good sense out the window and get as close as possible, the terrors of the pit be damned.

As soon as the opening piano chords of “Turn It Out” were triggered, the crowd began to lose its (collective) mind as their anticipation reached a fever pitch.  When the drums and bass finally kicked in, all hell broke loose and any chance that I had of being in control of my own movements went out the window, at least for the rest of the song; I found myself tossed from the far left of the stage all the way to the central barrier dividing All-Ages from Boozers with no idea how I got there, though I was jumping up and down to the beat the whole time.  “Right On, Frankenstein” brought a similar pattern of events, but when a shoelace came undone, I decided that it was best to make a break off to the side and fix the issue for safety’s sake.  And as a result of the wisdom that can only come with age, I took the opportunity to camp out at the side for the rest of the show, getting all the benefit of being close to the stage with much less wear and tear on the body.

It was all kind of a blur at the beginning

It was all kind of a blur at the beginning

With the physical terror no longer a concern, I was able to focus more clearly on the music.  The band placed an emphasis on the new material, playing all or nearly-all of The Physical World, and the crowd displayed a remarkable amount of enthusiasm considering the album was only released two months ago.  Sebastien and Jesse played their parts brilliantly, as they were effortlessly able to recreate the sounds of the album, and showing that the years of touring experience have served them well.  When the band dipped into their early songs, the audience found an extra gear and responded in an even more frenzied manner–during the climax of “Little Girl” one fan was able to launch himself completely above the crowd, as if shot from a cannon, to the delight/terror of those around him.  It was also fun to see the duo take the opportunity to stretch certain sections out and play around with the structure of the old songs, breathing new life into decade-old material.

A safer angle

A safer angle

The Crystal Ballroom can be a fickle place to play for a lot of bands, with its wonky acoustics and expansive layout, but Death From Above 1979 was able to keep the feel of a punk club; all elements (bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals) came through with great clarity, and the band tried to keep all sections of the audience involved.  Sebastien was surprised to see a balcony way in the back, opining that those people decided to sit so far back “just to get a look down the shirts of the audience below”; he also expressed bemusement at the strict separation as required by the OLCC, a sentiment with which we share.  The stage show was modest, with their trademark logo being the sole decoration and a line of white strobe lights being the main effect, but this minimalism served them well when they expertly deployed a sudden shift to red lights during the chorus of “White Is Red.”  But the coolest effect was probably the cheapest one possible–during the final song of the encore, Sebastien emptied a bottle of water onto his drumset before launching into the coda of “The Physical World”, and the effect of seeing the water splash high into the air during that brilliant finale was mesmerizing.  Hundreds of cameraphones went up to capture that moment, but it felt better just to experience the moment on its own.  So, sorry I have no actual footage of this–you’ll just have to see it for yourself when Death From Above stops by your town.

Slowdive, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

Rust Is Just Right and Slowdive have a bit of a shared history, as our first story was an article discussing their surprise reunion earlier this year.  At the time, we were unsure whether the reunification was a one-off deal, but luckily the band would not only launch a tour, but they would stop by our corner of the world here in Oregon.  Considering we were too young to catch them during their initial heyday, we jumped at the opportunity to see the shoegaze legends live.  As they proved Wednesday night, The Jesus And Mary Chain may have created the genre and My Bloody Valentine created its masterpiece, it was Slowdive that perfected the craft.

Slowdive up in lights.

Slowdive up in lights.

Just seeing the headliners would have been enough of a treat, but we were blessed with the additional bonus of Low opening up the show.  Low is definitely a band worthy of its own headlining tour (though they may not be playing in venues as large as the Crystal), but when given an invitation from icons like Slowdive, you take that gig in a heartbeat.  As such, we tried to get in as close to the start of the show as possible, and despite a slight delay at the Will Call office due to some confusion with the customers in front of us, we were able to arrive as their first song faded and “Plastic Cup” began.  This started a run of songs from their overlooked recent album The Invisible Way that the crowd ate up, leading me to suspect that there may have been more than a few people who bought tickets to the show on the strength of the opener alone.  Low stuck with some of their heavier, more bombastic material, like “Monkey” and the sublime “Dinosaur Act”, which elicited cheers from the crowd as soon as the first hints of its melody drifted through the venue.  The band finished up a tight set to thunderous applause, leaving the crowd wanting more, even though we were eagerly anticipating the headliners.

The interstitial music coming over the PA featured some inspired choices like The Shins’ “Caring Is Creepy” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, which kept the audience in a suitably relaxed mood before the main act arrived.  But even though we were prepared for an evening of gorgeous, dreamy music, that didn’t stop us from providing a rapturous welcome to Slowdive as they walked onto the stage.  The band kicked the show off with some of their earliest songs, from the Slowdive EP, with the guitars swirling and Rachel Goswell’s and Neil Halstead’s vocals floating in and above the haze in a gorgeous, dreamlike state.  Though those components are the hallmarks of the Slowdive aesthetic, in the live setting you get a full appreciation for Simon Scott’s drums, which not only provided a necessary tether to the ethereal songs, but also provided some brilliant beats in and of themselves.  His contributions tend to go unnoticed on record, but they formed an integral part of the performance.

A glimpse of the psychedelic set

A glimpse of the psychedelic set

The early results were pleasing, but the band hit another level with “Catch the Breeze” from Just For A Day, with an exhilarating climax propelled by Scott’s thunderous drums enhanced by a delirious strobe effect, in perhaps the most effective use of the trick I’ve ever seen.  It was this moment that confirmed that as wonderful as their albums are, it’s no comparison to Slowdive’s live show.  Highlights included favorites from their classic Souvlaki like “Machine Gun” and “Alison”, which strangely enough were the only songs introduced by the band even though they rank as among the most recognizable.  With all the pure noise generated from the several guitars over the course of most of the set, it made the delicate and sublime “Dagger” stand out even more, as all the reverbs, delays, wahs, filters, and phasers were stripped away for the mournful ballad, backed by a light setup that focused on various bulbs that enhanced the somber overtones of the song.  Considering the respectful silence that greeted the song, I may have been a bit too excited in unleashing a “whoo” as soon as I heard its opening chords, but dammit I was happy to hear one of my favorite songs played live for the first time.

Setlist from an amazing show.

Setlist from an amazing show.

It was an amazing experience from beginning-to-end, and hopefully it inspires the group to continue–whether it be with new music, re-releasing out-of-print albums, remastering their old material (while we’re generally not in favor of the “loudness wars”, the Slowdive back-catalog would benefit greatly from a volume-boost), or just launching more tours.  Because as I said after the show, Slowdive live was even more beautiful than I imagined.

The New Pornographers, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

It’s always a treat to see The New Pornographers live, and with the full crew* available for Wednesday night’s show, Portland was in for a treat.  Their potent brand of fun power-pop is the kind of music that’s perfect for sharing with a crowd.  In theory.

The Crystal Ballroom took the band's name off the marquee as soon as possible.

The Crystal Ballroom took the band’s name off the marquee as soon as possible.

In theory, a feedback loop should develop wherein the band’s bright, sugary melodies inspires the crowd to respond with some noise and movement, which in turn invigorates the band to play with more energy, exciting the audience even more, and forever and ever amen.  However, last night’s crowd was possibly the deadest group I’ve ever seen at a show in this town, and stood in stark contrast to the music being played on stage.  There was perhaps no better illustration of this moment than when the band hits the chorus to the frenetic “War on the East Coast”, about three people jumped in the air ready to dance as soon as the crunch of the downbeat hit, only to find that they were alone in their enthusiasm (granted, I was one of those three).  And don’t blame it on poor set placement–the band saved their latest single for the second-to-last spot of the main set, so the crowd should’ve already been warmed up at that point.

While a bit deflating, the band didn’t seem to notice all that much, fulfilling their part of the bargain at least.  With both Neko Case and Dan Bejar along for this tour, the band had the full catalog at their disposal.  The band emphasized their recent album, Brill Bruisers, playing ten of the twelve tracks in their hour-and-a-half long set, but also made sure to perform the majority of Dan’s songs, ensuring that Bejar wouldn’t remain off-stage for too long (a fact that Carl Newman joked about early in the show).  Earlier this week, we expressed our opinion about the new album, and many of the same criticisms still apply even in a live setting; “Brill Bruisers” is a decent opener and “War on the East Coast” could really pop, but otherwise we were waiting for old favorites to pop up.  It’s clear that the band however loves the new material (the mere fact that they could rope in both Dan and Neko for this tour says to this, considering that’s not always the case), with Carl mentioning that “Spidyr” is his personal favorite.

The whole gang, though believe me that they're less blurry in real-life.

The whole gang, though believe me that they’re less blurry in real-life.

The old favorites made for some killer moments–the pop of “Use It” motivated the crowd to move around, while at the other end of the scale the delicate “Adventures in Solitude” moved the audience emotionally.  But it was in the two encores that the band truly shined, with the one-two combo of the rousing “The Laws Have Changed” leading into the epic “The Bleeding Heart Show” bringing down the house, with the band’s replacement for long-time drummer Kurt Dahle stepping up to the plate and nailing that brilliant part.  I haven’t been able to find out who it was behind the kit, but he went all-out (as evidenced by his sweat-drenched shirt)  and did an excellent job all night.  This was followed by a second encore of “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” providing a perfect finale to the evening (I for one appreciated Carl taking the time to remember the chords to “Spanish Techno”).  Even if the crowd was half-dead for the most part, those songs shine through regardless.

Built to Spill, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

In some ways, Built to Spill is an odd choice to be a part of a festival put on by a beer company.  A Built to Spill show is not intended for the casual music fan who’s out on the town looking for a fun night out with the music as mere background to other items on the agenda. The band’s focus is not on spectacle, but on recreating dense, complex works of Guitar As Art for a devoted and appreciative audience in as professional a manner as possible.  Even fans can find themselves lost as the group delves deep into an extensive catalog of originals and various covers.  In other words, there would be no shilling for corporate sponsors, or mentions of alcoholic beverages; Doug Martsch would punctuate a song with a simple “Thanks”.

Though technically a part of the Project Pabst festivities, it is best to think of Saturday night’s show as a stand-alone gig–the chance to see one of the great indie rock bands for over two decades in a locale that while not home, is close to it, for the low price of only $25.  As weekend entertainment options go, it was probably the best bang you could get for your buck, and that’s before taking into account the quality of the actual performance.  With a setlist that danced all around their extensive career and a lineup in which the new parts are now seemingly fully assimilated, the band ended up performing their finest show that I’ve seen in years.

Doug Martsch and co. remembering to carry the zero

Doug Martsch and co. remembering to carry the zero

It’s not a bad idea to start things off with one of the greatest album openers of all-time, and the band obliged with a furious rendition of You In Reverse‘s epic “Goin’ Against Your Mind” in all its solo-filled glory.  The band then dipped into the early years with two cuts from There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, “In the Morning” and “Stab”.  A riveting performance of “Liar” followed, complete with the trademark Doug Martsch head-swivel, as well as a rousing version of “Sidewalk” which got the crowd bouncing.

The middle of the set featured my first encounter with “They Got Away”, a reggae-inspired song that the band had released a few years back on a single that I didn’t even know existed; I had been anticipating new material as the group had been working on a follow-up to There Is No Enemy for some time, but instead I had to settle for a song that ended up being just “new-to-me”.  Speaking of that album, a personal highlight was the gorgeous ballad “Life’s a Dream”, whose climax really sizzled live.  I’m still hoping to catch a live performance of the devastating “Things Fall Apart”, though.

Built to Spill jamming with the opener's cover of "Psycho Killer"

Built to Spill jamming with the opener’s cover of “Psycho Killer”

The last time I caught Built to Spill it was at an intimate show at the Doug Fir where the group was incorporating a new drummer and bass player.  The guitarists were all predictably great, but the rhythm section was hesitant and looked rather bored; part of this could be attributed to a setlist that consisted of seemingly easier songs so as to gradually incorporate the new members.  However, there was no such caution with the material at Saturday’s show, and the two new guys sounded as if they had been a part of the group for years.

The show ended with slow-building classics “I Would Hurt A Fly” and “Time Trap”, and though we were warned the latter would be the last song of the evening, we were thrilled when it unexpectedly merged into old favorite “Car”.  It had been nearly a decade since I saw that song live, and goddamn did it feel good to hear it again.  That said, hopefully it won’t be another decade before I see it again.

Interpol, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

Interpol hit the Crystal Ballroom last night feeling a bit rejuvenated.  Their latest album, El Pintor, was released last week to the best reviews that the band had received in a while (including our own rave, published on Tuesday), and they seemed eager to build on that momentum.  As the band geared up for a full-fledged fall tour in support of the album, a lot of the press from the early shows emphasized the prevalence of the band’s early material in their sets.  While many of the highlights of their beloved first two albums were performed last night, Interpol didn’t shy away from performing new material, sprinkling the set with several cuts from El Pintor.

Black and White helps hide some of the flaws of my photography

Black and White helps hide some of the flaws of my photography

Whereas before it often seemed that the band struggled to maintain an effortless cool in their performance–I have a distinct memory of their last Crystal Ballroom performance, which came during the Antics tour, where Paul would smoke and rest his still-burning cigarette on his guitar’s headstock while he played–last night the band was focused and intent on nailing their performance.  Daniel Kessler has always been a sparkplug and in his own little world with his various nifty dance-steps (though the Crystal’s stage put a damper on some of that footwork), but last night Sam Fogarino was locked in with a blistering performance, displaying a great ability to shake off the crowd’s enthusiastic-but-off-beat clapping.  Most significantly, Paul Banks was in a cheerful mood and seemed especially engaged, and it came through with one of the best performances of his that I’ve seen.

A glimpse of the stage show

A glimpse of the stage show

The stage show was fairly simple, alternating between green- and red-focused light setups and a simple backdrop, alternately displaying the hands of the El Pintor cover with the occasional abstract visualization.  The focuse was on the songs, and though the curse of the poor acoustics of the Crystal reared its head once again (Sam’s hi-hat and other auxiliary percussion were poorly mic’d, the keyboards were always buried, and Paul’s guitar spent most of the night turned down too low), it was still a riveting set.  After opening with “My Blue Supreme” from the new album, Interpol revved the crowd up with the one-two Antics combo “Evil” and “C’Mere”, with the latter surprisingly getting the bigger roar from the Portland crowd.  From then on it was an even mix between new material and early stuff, with the crowd going nuts for Turn on the Bright Lights‘s “Say Hello to the Angels”.  Our Love to Admire and Interpol only got one track apiece, with “The Lighthouse” being the surprise pick for the former and “Lights” leading off the encore for the latter.  It seems clear that the band is distancing itself from those albums (with Dan and Sam remarking how they barely remember how to play the songs from OLTA in a recent interview), but the band is not heading to the nostalgia circuit any time soon.  The new material was met with a rapturous response for the most part, an amazing feat considering the album was released just last week.

Interpol in a familiar red setting

Interpol in a familiar red setting

The future is bright once again for Interpol, and hopefully the band continues to make the most of its “comeback”.

Modest Mouse, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

Last Thursday saw the return of one of the most significant and unique voices in indie rock, as Modest Mouse kicked off a new tour with a two-night homestand at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.  It was a personal return for me as well, since I hadn’t seen the band perform at the Crystal since they did a four-night run back in 2004, right as “Float On” broke the band into the mainstream and out of college radio late-night playlists.  Fans across the nation were eager to know if we would finally hear some of the new material from their oft-delayed follow-up to their 2009 EP No One’s First and You’re Next (or to go back even further, to their last album, 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank).  To quickly answer the question, no we didn’t hear any new music per se, though a few songs were new to me (“Sugar Boats”, “Shit in Your Cut”, and “Lampshades on Fire” have not been released yet, though they had been a part of a few scattered live performances recently).

A handy concert calendar

A handy concert calendar

People have had varying experiences with Modest Mouse concerts, and I’ve read a few reviews where people were disappointed with their live set.  After seeing them five times over 10 years at a variety of venues, I’m ready to say that it’s more likely than not that you’ll see a stellar show if you’re a true fan of the band.  Things may have been different back in the early days where you weren’t certain what kind of state Isaac would show up in, but even the performance where he came off as a bit drunk had its charms, as I remember a particularly funny conversation that he had with an audience member on why they had trouble playing “Dramamine” (something along the lines of “it’s our first song from our first record, it’s hard to remember how to play it, it’s been a while!”).  Every other performance has been outstanding, through all the different compositions of the band, with a set list that varies quite a bit from show-to-show.  Chances are you’ll hear at least one deep cut from an early album at a show, which should be enough enticement for fans–it’s not a strict “greatest hits” playlist, in other words.

The night began with a slow start, as the crowd became restless when the band took its time before hitting the stage.  It didn’t help that it was apparently many people’s first experience at a rock show, as you would hear random cheers when a roadie would come up to check an instrument or when a song from the system PA would end (here’s my quick reminder: the show hasn’t started until they turn off the house lights–just settle in until then).  And initially, it seemed that the band was having to deal with first-show issues as instruments and mixing seemed to be an issue (though the latter is definitely a continual problem with shows at the Crystal).  But by the time they got to “Ocean Breathes Salty” with the second song, all was forgiven as the crowd sang along with all the words.

We were treated to a career-spanning setlist, so fans from all eras of the band should have been pleased.  Personal highlights included the rarity “Baby Blue Sedan” and the trio from the brilliant The Moon & Antarctica, especially a rambunctious version of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” that along with a raucous “Doin’ the Cockroach” formed a hell of a one-two punch to close the show.  While the inclusion of “The World at Large” was to almost-be-expected (but not guaranteed, especially considering that “Float On” was absent from both nights’ setlists), it still was a moving experience, as a deeper inspection of lyrics over the years has revealed to me a beautifully melancholic perspective that I find has taken on increasing personal relevance with each passing day.  (Though, unlike the performance in the link, Isaac played his usual guitar, possibly due to the fact that if they kept up the same instrumental setup over the years, they’d have to increase their keyboard budget significantly).

Over the course of the show, Isaac gradually loosened up and engaged with the crowd, possibly due to the fact that the venue had trapped in most of the heat on an unseasonably warm 90 degree day in May.  We were treated to two great random stories, one referring to cat food and the other to his spectacularly short stint as an actor.  For the first, Isaac told us how when walking past the venue earlier in the afternoon, he noticed a strange smell, later determining it to be cat food; he then remarked how that smell reminded him of visits to his grandmother’s house, but then he remembered that his grandmother had no cats (abrupt end of the story on purpose and warned about beforehand).  The other was related directly to the chants coming from the back of the crowd* that he remarked “Chanting is hard to hear”, getting the crowd to chant that as a counter.  He then told us about his work as an extra on The Pelican Brief, where he and his girlfriend were part of a group of protesters that were picketing whatever they wanted and shouting, just as B-Roll footage; the kicker was that it was such a pain in the ass that his girlfriend at the time didn’t bother to show up the next day, but he did and signed her in as well, meaning that he got both his $50 for the day and hers as well (as he said, it was clear that he needed the extra money more than she did).

Overall, the band sounded great, with the current lineup well-prepared to tackle the diverse instrumentation that is required of the Modest Mouse catalog.  Hopefully over the course of the tour we’ll hear some more news about a potential new album, but meanwhile if you’re still on the fence to attend one of their shows, take my word for it and go.

*The chants were for a former band member, and when Isaac realized this, his answer was “Maybe…I don’t know…we’ll see.”